She doesn’t get it, does she? The problem of our embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, epitomised in the quote lovingly plucked from her tearless apology by the Standard’s sub editors, is that she thinks this is just a little skid on the road to paradise, easily corrected by a twitch of the wheel and a lifting of the brake foot.

Here we go: “I want another chance to deliver the many initiatives that will help Hong Kong’s economy and improve the livelihood of Hong Kong people.”

Carrie Lam. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

This divides policy decisions into two crisp categories: economy and livelihood stuff, which she thinks she’s good at, and the political/legal stuff, which we shall carefully avoid in future.

This is a false division. The extradition bill is an economic issue. If businesspeople think that they cannot live and work in Hong Kong without the risk of a few months in gaol fighting extradition, followed by an appearance on Confessiontube and a few years in a mainland prison, then they will live and work in Singapore, and take their money and their business down there.

People have a variety of views about the merits of living in Singapore, but we can all agree that it’s an improvement on a mainland prison.

Similarly, extradition is a livelihood issue for anyone who thinks he might be on a shitlist north of the boundary. The standard of living in mainland jails is low, and opportunities for gainful employment non-existent. You cannot even sell your own organs when you die. They are already spoken for.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

And even if the safety precautions work, and your legal ordeal in Hong Kong ends with extradition being refused, you will generally spend the intervening period in custody. This is not a prospect to be taken lightly. Let me quote from an (alas) anonymous English barrister on the perils of a remand in custody:

Everything you have built over the course of a lifetime – your relationships, your family, your employment, your home – is suddenly without notice snatched away and placed on a high shelf beyond your reach…

And every day that passes is another day that your life is continuing without you in it. Your partner going about her business. Your job still needing to be done. Your children hitting their developmental milestones. Rent accumulating and bills piling up, and the consequences of their neglect – dismissal, eviction, repossession, disconnection – awaiting you upon your release or, more painfully, exacted upon your loved ones as you watch their suffering helplessly through the prison bars.”

A leader who was lining that up for some of us has no claim to confidence in her ability to improve livelihoods, and it seems to have taken her a long time to spot the economy angle.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Indeed a lot of people in the government camp seem to be having difficulty getting their heads round what has happened in the last couple of weeks. How many people have parroted that line about “the Complaints against Police Office and Independent Police Complaints Council have always been effective in handling complaints”?

This is beyond a joke. The CAPO gets about 130 complaints a month. This is what happened to them in the last period I can find detailed figures for: “In 2006 to 2008, 325 police officers were disciplined on substantiation of the complaints against them. Of these, 292 were given advice, 12 given warnings, 12 cautioned, two reprimanded, six severely reprimanded and one dismissed subsequent to criminal conviction.”

In other words, of about 3,000 complaints, more than 2,500 produced no result at all. They were “unsubstantiated,” or classified as “not pursuable”, which is the committee’s tactful way of saying that all the witnesses present were policemen who saw nothing.

Nearly 300 of the remaining complaints resulted in a police person being given “advice”. Ouch! The only person dismissed had been convicted of a criminal offence. There is no reason to suppose that the recent performance of the system has been any different.

Photo: Dan Garrett.

No doubt complaints about recent events will be handled in the same “effective” way.

Another massively inappropriate response was produced by Ronny Tong, who suggested that anyone who turned up at a protest wearing a hard hat could be charged with intention to riot. Actually a shortage of pretexts for putting people in prison is not the government’s most pressing problem at the moment, but even if it was, Mr Tong’s suggestion has the drawbacks of being illogical (do we suppose that the driver who puts on a safety belt intends to ram a bus?) and illegal. What, no presumption of innocence?

Actually, the only person among the government troops who appears to realise the seriousness of what has happened is Alice Mak, who sits in Legco for the NT West constituency, where she ran on behalf the Federation of Trade Unions. Reportedly Ms Mak’s opinion of Ms Lam, as expressed in a closed-door meeting for the government’s poodles, went on for five minutes, was highly critical and included some of the Cantonese words which when translated into English contain four letters.

Alice Mak. Photo: InMedia.

This is unnecessary. The traditional resort on these occasions is to reach for your Browning – the poet, not the pistol – who produced this gem for a “Lost Leader”:

Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!

What Ms Mak realises, and Ms Lam apparently doesn’t, is that the last couple of weeks have not been a minor hiccup in the smooth flow of public administration. They have been a political earthquake. Tsunami to follow in coming elections.

Hong Kong people traditionally divided into three roughly equal groups. There were those who welcomed the handover, and liked, or for a variety of reasons pretended to like, the idea of ever-closer unification with China.

There were those, on the other hand, who thought that the preservation of the rights and freedoms to which Hongkongers were accustomed was far from certain, and could only be ensured by allowing residents of the city a greater say in their own government.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

And there was a middle group, who took things from day to day, had other things to worry about, and hoped that if they did not bother politics then politics would not bother them. This group has, effectively, been kicked off the fence. Few of them are landing on Ms Lam’s side of it.

So it’s the end of the line for the happy-clappy “The more we are together the happier we shall be”, “Xi is our Dada and Carrie is our Mama”, “You don’t love Hong Kong if you don’t love China”, and all the associated rubbish which has been played ad nauseam since the Handover. Nobody is singing that stuff any more.

The government needs a new selling point, something fresh that will appeal to the disillusioned and disenchanted. May I suggest “a high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”?

Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.